India’s understated role in Second World War Re-examined

Chennai: “The fact that Nehru was inspired by the rosy ideals of a Soviet model for a centralized, state-run economy is incorrect,” says Historian Srinath Raghavan,” India understood the need for a planned economy around the time of the second world war,”


10.Indian infantry 7th Rajput Regiment about to go on patrol on the Arakan front in Burma ,1944 Source

In a talk given at the Madras Institute of Developmental Studies.on Wednesday, Dr. Raghavan covered the key points of his latest book, India’s war: the making of Modern South Asia 1939-1945.

Dr. Raghavan, a senior fellow at the King’s college, London provides a unique narrative of India’s history during the Second World War, when a 2.5 million strong force was fed, clothed , creating a strong ripple effect through the economic sphere till date.


Front Cover of Dr.Raghavan’s latest work . Image from Amazon

“The first Industrial Planning Organization comes into being in 1943, which has long-term Institutional consequences, “he elaborates,” The world of license raj, quotas and permits that underpin the workings and policies of the State economy ,are all very British constructs.”

India’s contribution to the war efforts got it a seat as one of the six permanent directorships in the International Monetary Fund in 1944, the only non-independent country to have done so, retained till date.  This established India as an important power on the international front.

Dr.Raghavan’s argument was that India’s economy was diverted to war efforts,largely ignored in traditional narratives. As production was needed to be increased by several –fold on war-time goods, capital for it was raised by was granted to the Government of India to the amount of 1.3 billion Pounds sterling.  This is the equivalent of 300 billion Rupees—approximately the estimate of the current reserves of the Reserve Bank of India

During the war, Dr.Raghavan stated that such capital can be brought up in three methods viz raising taxes,increasing prices and printing money. The effect of these three measures combined lead to heavy rates of inflation, which although caused the average income of a middle class family to be raised by 45 percent, it also caused food prices to be raised by 98 percent.

This, Dr.Raghavan asserts, could be another factor for the famines that caused immense loss of life of India’s poor during the year 1943. Aside from the great Bengal famine, He also shed light on the lesser known accounts of death by starvation that had plagued the presidencies and the princely states of Madras, Hyderabad, Mumbai and Travancore through letters and first-hand accounts of that time period. He also brings to light the second most affected area was the Travancore Presidency, where a mass migration from the princely state to escape starvation led to the death of 50,000 persons alone.

This amount was given back to the Government of India, in the form of installments upto 1956 following independence. In effect, Dr Raghavan states that such remunerations weren’t timely aid for the grand development for land development, construction and laying out of infrastructure for transportation and irrigation as stated by the Bombay plan formulated in 1946 with the help of the nation’s foremost capitalists such as GD Birla and Puroshottam Thakurdas.

During the question-answer sessions, Dr Raghavan also mentioned the special efforts to create indigenous military equipment by India’s leading capitalists at the time. He mentioned Walchand Hirachand establishing a shipping yard in Vishakapatnam, as well as creating the Hindustan Aircraft limited which was renamed to Hinustan Aeronautics Limited—a company that still produces aircraft military equipment. He also pointed out that the makers of the legendary Ambassador, Hindustan Motors Limited, was established by the Birla’s to produce military vehicles during the world war.

To know more about Dr.Raghavan, follow the link here :



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